Reuben “Tihi” Hayslett has already made a career for himself in progressive politics, working as a campaign manager, a fundraiser, and, most recently, a consumer advocate for Demand Progress, where he focuses on issues of surveillance and human rights. In the political climate of the last three years, however, Hayslett felt compelled to express himself through his first passion: writing. His debut collection of short stories, Dark Corners, which earned a Kirkus Star, focuses on minorities, children, queer people, and others who feel politically powerless or vulnerable. The subjects of his eerie stories range from germ warfare to a mother who may be turning into a vampire. He spoke with us about his off-kilter view into the lives of underrepresented characters.

When did your passion for writing begin?

Most of my life, I've kind of like cycled back and forth between activism and writing. I felt like I always wanted to be a writer. Growing up people would say, “OK, you want to be a writer, but what’s the other thing you’re going to do?” Activism was the second passion that came to me. I went to grad school to study creative writing, but I started working in politics. I like making a good impact….

Why did you decide to release this collection now?

The Trump election hit me really hard as someone who was doing a lot of digital support for progressive candidates. I decided to take time off and just focus on what was really important to me. And the thing that really gets me going, the thing that is my passion, is short stories and fiction. I had written half of it already in grad school, but within one week, I finished my manuscript. Writing it was very cathartic.

Did your political experience have a big impact on the collection?

I feel like there's a political angle in every single story that's in the collection. All human beings are political creatures. We're all affected by politics whether or not we're conscious of it. So the question then becomes: How do you get it into the work in a way that makes sense for the character and in a way that makes sense for the plot and for the story to go forward?

As a queer writer, what do you wish you saw more of in fiction?

I think one of the things that kind of bugs me is the assumption of heterosexuality within so many of the stories we digest in the media. What I see is an eventual progression away from the standard stories about queer characters, which are almost always their coming-out story or the story around their first sexual experience. I look forward to the time when we can have a young adult fantasy series about a young lesbian black girl who fights dragons.

What do you hope readers take away from Dark Corners?

The original idea was thinking about intersectionality.I was thinking about the kinds of people that you meet in a dark corner, the kinds of worlds that intersect with each other that aren't seen. So they're a little bit more obscure. What are the things that are more possible in those spaces without light? Sometimes those stories aren't always super happy, but they have the potential to be great, and they have the potential to be more informative and more illuminating even though they're in the dark. I hope that, in reading the stories, readers can start to understand the more subterranean parts of themselves.

Rhett Morgan is a writer and translator based in Paris.